Nothing Vague About FBI Abuse: Here Are the Dossiers
excerpted from the book
Wizards of Media OZ
by Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
May 10, 1995
As the White House pushes to expand FBI powers, some press reports are sounding cautionary notes usually vague allusions to the FBI’s history of harassing political groups and movements.
Missing from most accounts are specifics. This column offers a few of the many horrifying details.
Although President Clinton says stepped-up FBI infiltration will help prevent violence, the record shows that FBI spying has actually abetted violence.
* DICK GREGORY: In 1968, the activist/comedian publicly denounced the Mafia for importing heroin into the inner city. Did the FBI welcome the anti-drug, anti-mob message? No. Head G-man J. Edgar Hoover responded by proposing that the Bureau try to provoke the mob to retaliate against Gregory as part of an FBI "counter intelligence operation" to "neutralize" the comedian. Hoover wrote: "Alert La Cosa Nostra (LCN) to Gregory’s attack on LCN."
* FREEDOM RIDERS: In 1961, black and white civil rights workers boarded interstate buses in the North and headed south in an effort to desegregate buses nationwide. The FBI learned that when the freedom riders reached bus depots in Alabama, the state police were going to give the Ku Klux Klan "15 uninterrupted minutes" to beat activists with baseball bats, clubs and chains. The Bureau allowed the violence to occur; activist Walter Bergman spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed.
* VIOLA LIUZZO: The white civil rights volunteer from Detroit-a mother of five-joined Martin Luther King’s 1965 Selma (Ala.) campaign aimed at securing the right to vote for blacks. She was shot and killed after being chased 20 miles at high speed by a carload of four Klansmen. In the car was Gary David Rowe, a well-paid FBI informant inside the Klan; the violence-prone Rowe had played a big role in the beatings of freedom riders years earlier. "He couldn’t be an angel and be a good informant," commented one of his FBI handlers.
* FRANK WILKINSON: A lifelong civil libertarian who led the campaign to abolish the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, his FBI surveillance file spans 30 years and 132,000 pages. Estimated cost to us taxpayers: $17 million. Wilkinson never advocated or committed violence, but the file shows that the Bureau burglarized his offices and encouraged beatings of him. The FBI once heard of a right-wing scheme to assassinate Wilkinson-but took no action to inform him or protect him.
* MARTIN LUTHER KING: For years, the FBI used spying and infiltration in a relentless campaign to destroy King- to wreck his marriage, undermine his mental stability and encourage him to commit suicide. The Bureau created dissension among King’s associates, disrupted fundraising efforts and recruited his bookkeeper as a paid agent after learning the employee was embezzling.
The FBI utilized "media assets" to plant smear stories in the press – some insinuating that King was a Soviet agent. One FBI media asset against King in the early 1960s was Patrick Buchanan, then an editorial writer in St. Louis.
The FBI once hatched a scheme to "completely discredit" King and have him replaced by a civil rights leader the Bureau could control. The one individual named by the Bureau as "the right kind of Negro leader" was lawyer Samuel Pierce-who years later became the only black in President Reagan’s cabinet.
King was hated and regularly threatened by white supremacists and extremists-but the FBI developed a written policy of not informing King about threats to his life. Why? Because of his "unsavory character," "arrogance and "uncooperative attitude."
* PETER BOHMER: For months in the early 1970s, this economics professor and other antiwar activists in San Diego were terrorized-with menacing phone calls, death threats and fire-bombings-by the Secret Army Organization, a right-wing paramilitary group. On Jan. 6, 1972, gunshots were fired into Bohmer’s house, wounding a friend.
After a bombing months later, a trial revealed that Howard Barry Godfrey, co-founder of SAO in San Diego and one of its most active and violent members, had all along been a paid FBI informant. Godfrey testified that he had driven the car from which the shots were fired; afterward, he took the weapon to his FBI supervisor, who hid it.
* BLACK PANTHER PARTY: Some critics are denouncing the new movie Panther as an anti-FBI fantasy. But the hard facts about the FBI’s war on the Panthers were published in 1976 by the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Frank Church. Using paid infiltrators and faked documents, the Bureau routinely tried to goad militant groups or street gangs to commit violence against the Panthers.
In southern California, FBI agents helped provoke Ron Karenga’s militant US group into attacks on Panthers and boasted about it in memos to headquarters. When the FBI learned that the Panthers and US were trying to talk out their differences, agents did their best to reopen the conflict. Four Panthers were ultimately killed by US members, two on the UCLA campus.
In Chicago, the FBI office forged and sent a letter to the Blackstone Rangers gang leader saying the Panthers had a "hit out" on him. The FBI’s stated hope was that he "take reprisals against" the Panther leadership.
Although that plan failed, Chicago Panther chief Fred Hampton (age 21) was killed months later in a predawn police assault on his apartment. Hampton’s bodyguard turned out to be an FBI agent-provocateur who, days before the raid, had delivered an apartment floor-plan to the Bureau-with an "X" marking Hampton’s bed. Most bullets were aimed at his bedroom. The infiltrator received a $300 bonus: "Our source was the man who made the raid possible," stated an FBI memo.
Among the hundreds of schemes detailed in FBI memos were plans to contaminate the Panther newspaper’s printing room with a noxious chemical; to inject a powerful laxative into fruit served to kids as part of the Panthers’ free breakfast program; and to target smear campaigns at various Hollywood celebrities who had come to the Panthers’ defense.
* CENTRAL AMERICA ACTIVISTS: Many recent news accounts say that FBI abuse pretty much ended with J. Edgar Hoover’s death in 1972, and that the Bureau has been in check since the Justice Department issued new guidelines in 1976. Not true. FBI disruption of lawful dissent has continued-though the terminology has changed, from counterintelligence (COINTELPRO) to "counterterrorism."
During the 1980s, groups critical of U.S. intervention in Central America were surveilled, infiltrated and disrupted by the FBI. Political break-ins occurred at churches, offices and homes-and material from the burglaries ended up in FBI files. In the guise of monitoring supporters of foreign terrorists, the FBI compiled files on clergy, religious groups and thousands of nonviolent anti-intervention activists. The investigation produced not a single criminal charge. The whole sordid story is detailed in Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI, a book by former Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan.
At the center of this spying was FBI official Oliver "Buck" Revell. Today, Revell (now retired) makes the rounds of TV news shows, complaining that the FBI is too hamstrung to track terrorists.
The truth is that the FBI has always had the power to infiltrate terrorist groups. The problem has been the Bureau’s diversion of resources to monitor and harass activists whose only "crime" was working for social change.